The Prologue to Chrétien’s Erec et Enide: Key to the Alchemical San of the Romance
By Ingrid Lotze
Arcanum, No.1 (2013)
Abstract: Although it has been documented that alchemical treatises were translated into Latin, beginning at least in the middle of the 12th century, the romances of Chrétien de Troyes have not been connected with alchemical lore. This study suggests that Chrétien’s first Arthuran romance, Erec et Enide, is an alchemical tour de force, and the the “tel chose”, mentioned twice in the prologue, is the key to an alchemical understanding of Erec et Enide.
Introduction: Critical consensus holds that Chrétien’s first Arthurian romance, Erec et Enide, tends toward cultural and psychological realism. The present article proposes that the matière of the romance of Erec et Enide — a fusion of literary motifs, realistic cultural and psychological observations, and ethical concerns — is superimposed on spiritual alchemy, or on the heterodox redemptive vision based on the polarity of spirit and matter. From their inception, Chrétien’s Arthurian romances attested to the religious fervor and passionate quest for salvation symptomatic of the 12th century.
The peasant in his proverb says that one might find oneself holding in contempt something that is worth much more than one believes; therefore a man does well to make good use of his learning according to whatever understanding he has, for he who neglects his learning may easily keep silent something that would later give much pleasure. And so Chrétien de Troyes says that it is reasonable for everyone to think and strive in every way to speak well and to teach well, and from a tale of adventure he draws a beautifully ordered composition that clearly proves that a man does not act intelligently if he does not give free rein to his knowledge for as long as God gives him the grace to do so.
This is the tale of Erec, son of Lac, which those who try to live by storytelling customarily mangle and corrupt before kings and counts. Now I shall begin the story that will be in memory for evermore, as long as Christendom lasts — of this does Chrétien boast.